Repsol Honda's Casey Stoner...
Repsol Honda's Casey Stoner made good on his domination of nearly all practice sessions at Qatar by pulling away to win the MotoGP race by 3.44 seconds.
LOSAIL, QATAR, MARCH 20 – When Casey Stoner was at LCR Honda in 2006, his crew chief was Ramon Forcada, the Spaniard who would go on to join Jorge Lorenzo on the Yamaha works team. Stoner showed blistering speed, even early on, but what Forcada saw of Stoner’s work ethic apparently didn’t impress him. The day before the MotoGP season kicked off in Qatar, Forcada told the Madrid daily “Marca,” “He races like a wounded bull. He doesn’t like to practice, he's never been in a gym in his life, he doesn’t diet, he doesn’t take care of himself, and his head fails him. But if he worked like Rossi or Lorenzo, he’d run by himself.” After Stoner’s domination this weekend, that’s a scary thought.
Stoner led every practice session and qualifying and often by margins that struck fear into his competition. When he lined up for 22 laps of the 5.380km circuit in the desert east of Doha, the expectation was that he’d be a ghost, that he’d disappear only to reappear on the podium. It didn’t quite happen that way, but Stoner was fine with it.
What he’d learned in the morning warm-up was that the Repsol Honda RC212V didn’t like a full tank of fuel, and Stoner’s more comfortable on used tires. So he had to bide his time, watch others grab the spotlight, all the while knowing his time would come. It did. On the 13th lap Stoner set the fast lap of the race, and put nearly a second on Dani Pedrosa, his teammate whose race was soon to come apart.
Once in his comfort zone, Stoner was untouchable, growing the gap lap after lap and leaving no doubt that the 2011 season was going to be difficult for the others. By the time the checkered flag waved, Stoner had 3.44 seconds in hand and his first win in his first ride on a factory Honda.
The win was his fourth in the premier class at a track he doesn’t much care for, and Honda’s first in an opening round since Valentino Rossi began his 2003 championship season with a win in Suzuka.
Dani Pedrosa got past Stoner...
Dani Pedrosa got past Stoner in the early stages of the race and opened up a little gap, but eventually Stoner's RC212V started to handle better with a lighter load of fuel and he moved past to win.
“Everything’s been almost a fairy tale, the start to the season,” Stoner said. “Testing, everything’s just gone so well for us. We’re getting more and more confident with the bike and everybody’s working so well together. You know, it was just a matter of continuing that for this weekend.”
Stoner explained that with a full tank the bike “didn’t sort of give me the traction that I wanted. And I couldn’t get the bike to turn quite as easily. So once I got past Jorge, I thought we’d set on a pace that I was quite comfortable, but Dani was obviously a little bit faster, so he came past. He was able to pull a little bit on me, but we weren’t really in a big hurry because we knew our bike at the end of the tires, at the end of the race was very competitive. So when I saw Dani start to struggle a little bit more with grip and things like this, then I just started to push a little bit more, get closer to him. And then once we made an overtake we were able to pull the advantage quickly and from there it was damage limitation and just going around enjoying the race, because the bike was getting better and better the more laps we did and it was getting easier and easier to ride. So it was really fantastic, the whole weekend.”
Over the course of the four days, Stoner had let it be known that there was more to come. He said the RC212V was only 80% complete, which he thought was misunderstood.
“It’s not saying that it’s at 80%, that we got that much more to go, that we can push it that much harder,” he said, “it’s that I don’t believe any bike on this grid is at 100%. I believe we’ve still got a lot to do with engine brake, that we’re still a long way off. We’ve still got too much chatter going into the corners. Also just the way the bike reacts going into the corners can improve a lot. And there’s bits and pieces here and there that the bike can improve with in general. I think any one bike at one time is only at 90%. Maybe they’ve got a very good chassis, but they’re struggling with engine. Maybe the opposite way around. So there’s always compromise. But we just need to pick it up a little bit higher level in a couple different areas.”
He’d also said that he only pushed hard in qualifying, but in the race he upped the pace a few more notches.
“Basically, in maybe two laps of the race we pushed pretty hard just to sort of see where we needed to go and where the bike was reacting,” he said. “We weren’t willing to push too hard in those early stages. The bike didn’t feel perfect. And as the race got on, we had less fuel in the bike it just started to get better and better, and right up until the last lap the bike continued to be easy to ride, so I’m very happy.”
Jorge Lorenzo paid no attention...
Jorge Lorenzo paid no attention to all the pre-race hype surrounding the Hondas and grabbed second place despite being being outmatched on acceleration and top speed.
As was Jorge Lorenzo, the world champion who acted as if he’d won the race. “Yes, because this is what I feel now,” he said. “It’s more important this second place than maybe…no, I don’t say all the victories last year, no, but maybe half of the victories last year I keep believing in myself.”
The Yamahas were clearly overmatched by the Hondas, especially in acceleration but also in top speed. Which meant Lorenzo had to take more chances for much of the lap to make up for what he’d lose on the kilometer long straight. He said that “when you are at the limit in every lap, in every corner you have the high possibilities to crash,” but he nearly did. “And today in that corner, it happens like in Valencia last year, I thought ‘You don’t need to crash.’ And when I was closing my eyes and expecting to crash I open again my eyes and I stay on the bike. So maybe without this mistake I could try to catch Casey, but after this mistake the only thing that I could do is close my mouth and open the maximum throttle to finish second. So this result is for the people who still believe in myself and we will have to celebrate.”
Some were surprised that Lorenzo was able to lead the race and also stay close to the Hondas. But his race pace wasn’t far off the Hondas, though it was closer to Pedrosa’s than Stoners.
“Well, to be honest I didn’t expect to finish in second place today, you know,” he said, but he found something in morning warm-up. And the pace was slower than it had been all weekend, “so all this together makes the race more close. But to be honest, we have to improve the bike, because at the end if you go like today, I go like today in other races for this year, at the end I will crash, so we have to improve the bike to be with them again.”
Once Stoner got past, Pedrosa's...
Once Stoner got past, Pedrosa's arm problems dropped him back into the clutches of Lorenzo, who quickly pounced to take second and pull away.
Pedrosa and Stoner swapped the lead until the 12th lap, when the Australian went through for good. What wasn’t known was that Pedrosa was struggling physically. The collarbone that he’d broken in Japan last year was acting up. There was a loss of feeling in his arm and he couldn’t grip the bars or use the clutch. Finishing was a matter of survival, not racing.
“Already in practice I felt something, but I wasn’t sure it could go worse,” he said. “But at the end I couldn’t grab the grip. I was just holding on somehow. I wasn’t using the clutch. I couldn’t use the clutch any more. I don’t know. I had some problem.” Pedrosa said in the last two races of last season he started having the problem, but thought it was gone, “but it’s not finished. I don’t know what I will do or what can I do, but it’s like this, so I don’t know.”
The Spaniard had never tested the shoulder on lengthy runs, not even in testing, “so it’s a shame because the bike was perfect. It was fast, it was going very well in the corners also. And for the very first time at this track I was quite quick I could fight for the top. Finally I just tried to bring the bike home and I had a hard time there in the last laps trying to hold the bike.”
Honda’s dominance continued after Pedrosa. His teammate Andrea Dovizioso got the best of fellow Italian Marco Simoncelli, who has the benefit of a full factory RC212V.
After getting knocked around...
After getting knocked around in the first few turns and losing touch with the lead group, Ben Spies settled into a quick pace that led him past Valentino Rossi into sixth place.
Yamaha’s Ben Spies was sixth after getting knocked around at the start and losing touch with the fast starters.
“First race of the year we didn’t meet our expectations, but it can always be worse,” Spies said. “So we collected points. It was a little unlucky in the first two turns and got pushed out a little bit. I think I can’t remember who it was, maybe (Hector) Barbera got in a little hot and got run wide. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time and once we got into our rhythm and got going it was a good race for us.”
“We just got, like I said, a little sucked behind when Barbera and Valentino…they were kinda all over the track battling, trying to get up to the lead group and we were just unfortunately sucked behind and the lap times weren’t quick. But once the race got going and I could get around them, we had good pace. We turned good, fast lap times, but again it was just a little unlucky the first couple turns and then I tried everything I could, but just couldn’t be up there tonight.”
Spies sped up trying to pass Rossi, which he did on the 16th lap, having learned from the master.
“It would’ve been easier if I could’ve passed in the midway through the lap, but I just couldn’t get close enough,” Spies said of using the draft pass to get by. “So it had to be turn one and it was a struggle to do it. I put total blame on myself. I should’ve got by him six laps earlier. That’s just the way it should’ve been, but I couldn’t do it, so just waited.”
Rossi was seventh and not “very happy, but quite satisfied about the race. 56.0 in the race is not so bad and I made a good part of the race with this pace and I was competitive. The problem is that my physical condition is not good enough and I didn’t have enough power from the start. But lap by lap I lost a lot of power and at the end of the race I had the same problem that I had with the Yamaha.”
Colin Edwards was eighth with Nicky Hayden closing fast on the Ducati Marlboro machine. Hayden had a clutch problem at the start that put him into a quagmire in the early corners, which became more problematic when Randy de Puniet had a cold tire high-side in front of him. Hayden had to check up, letting the stragglers by, and starting all over.
“I can’t be satisfied with ninth place on this bike, on this team. It’s not good. It’s been a tough weekend,” Hayden said.
2011 MotoGP Qatar race results:
1. Casey Stoner (AUS) Honda
2. Jorge Lorenzo (SPA) Yamaha
3. Dani Pedrosa (SPA) Honda
4. Andrea Dovisioso (ITA) Honda
5. Marco Simoncelli (ITA) Honda
6. Ben Spies (USA) Yamaha
7. Valentino Rossi (ITA) Ducati
8. Colin Edwards (USA) Yamaha
9. Nicky Hayden (USA) Ducati
10. Hiroshi Aoyama (JPN) Honda
11. Cal Crutchlow (GBR) Yamaha
12. Hector Barbera (SPA) Ducati
13. Karel Abraham (CZE) Ducati
DNF Toni Elias (SPA) Honda – crash
DNF Loris Capirossi (ITA) Ducati – retire
DNF Randy De Puniet (FRA) Ducati - crash